Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You ARE just a tool

Tool Academy is a new reality show on VH1. Various couples experiences problems in their relationships with their significant other. These men are disloyal, dishonest, and have admitted to repeatedly cheating on their girlfriends. The sad part is, they see no problem with their behavior. The show is hosted by Jordan Murphy and couple's therapist Trina Dolenz. Each show, the men must earn merit badges for various virtues. They are put through a test at the beginning of the episode and must later complete a challenge. The winner of the challenge has the opportunity for a conjugal visit, a great privilege because the men and women live in seperate houses. At the end of the day there is an elimination ceremony where the men are judged based on ther performance during the day. The women wait outside of the house and will find out who was elimnated by who walks out the door. At that time, the girlfriend of the eliminated guy will decide whether or not she wants to stay with him.

There have only been 4 episodes so far, but the second one was the most controversial to me. This episode was a test of fidelity. In the beginning all the couples gathered in room with a large flat screen T.V. with the hosts. The boyfriends were thrown in a situation with a very attractive female make-up artist. The men had no idea they were being taped. The woman hit on the men and most of them took the bait. While one boyfriend Shawn was explaining his actions to his current girlfriend Jamie when his OTHER girlfriend Aida of 5 1/2 years walked in claiming "He's my boyfriend." Apparently Shawn and Aida had been dating for a while, then had seperated for about 3 months. However, during the seperation, Shawn found a new girlfriend, but then he and Aida decided to get back together while he was still seeing Jamie. Jamie was in shock because she did not see any of this coming. She ends up walking out on Shawn and the show and Aida takes her place moving into the ladies house.

The whole ordeal was a complete shock to everyone, but it sure made for good T.V.!

Chibuzo Atukpawu

The City: Just Another Spinoff?

And so it begins, with a reality show documenting the complicated lives of teenagers in the affluent Orange County. Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County is the mother of MTVs’ pseudo-reality shows like The Hills, Bromance and The City. The most recent spinoff, The City, captures Los Angeles native and former The Hills costar, Whitney Port, in a journey of love, independence and self-discovery. What allegedly makes this spinoff different from Laguna Beach, The Hills and Bromance? Location.

The City takes Whitney far from the nicely paved boulevards of sunny California and places her in the mean and grimy streets of New York; in a city where “nothing is what it seems”—or so the promos advertise. While working for fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Whitney has to find an apartment, maintain a complicated relationship and above all else, deal with the ruthless people and the cutthroat nature of New York.

All features to make this spinoff original are there—a different location, a new reality star, and the accompanying fresh drama. But the show is far from innovative. Though there is a new star, Whitney faces problems akin to her best friend Lauren Conrad, star of The Hills. There is boy drama (Aussie rocker Jay replaces the untrustworthy Brody from The Hills), there is girl trouble (socialite Olivia replaces brainwashed Heidi) and there are countless trips to extravagant clubs and eateries.

Though MTV markets The City as raw and true, it comes nowhere near. Whitney, earning $20,000 per episode, is wealthy. So although this Los Angeles native is placed in one of America’s most ruthless city, her problems are far from what real New Yorkers experience. The City, like The Hills and Laguna Beach, captures the trivial troubles and exaggerated drama of an affluent Californian—the change in location is not “what it seems,” it is a negligible twist that fails to save the show from becoming just another spinoff.
-Adriana Campos

Monday, January 26, 2009

With Super Bowl XLIII coming up on Sunday and the unfortunate end of football for seven months, I felt obliged to talk about the upcoming game. The game will feature a clash between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. Although a sports game is not a typical form of reality show it is completely unscripted and provides great drama even without dialogue between the participants. Actually, the Super Bowl may be the most watched TV event of the year and last year’s Super Bowl was the second most watched program ever after the series finale of M.A.S.H. .Commercials for the super bowl sold for $3 million per 30 seconds and the price for the few remaining ads barely declined even though we are in a recession. It is amazing how so many casual football followers end up watching the game when they had watched few or none all season.
The Steelers were the #2 seed in the AFC and along with the Titans were one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. The franchise has a long tradition of winning and is tied for the record Super Bowl victories with 5 and will be going for their sixth. They also won Super Bowl XL, just a few years ago with the same core of players. Their coach Mike Tomlin and Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been praised in the media all year.
On the other hand, the Arizona Cardinals are a team that no one would have expected to be in the Super Bowl only a few weeks ago. They won their division, which was perhaps the least competitive division in NFL history and limped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record and horrendous play in the games right before their wild card game. In their wild card game they beat Atlanta in a game that was considered a tossup. Then out of nowhere in their next game they routed the Carolina Panthers in a complete shock to the sports world. They then dominated the first half against the Eagles in the NFC championship, almost blew the game and then came back to win. Now they are in the Super Bowl with a 37 year old quarterback in Kurt Warner and a coach in Ken Whisenhunt who was not awarded the head coaching job with the Steelers which he sought just 2 years ago. The Cardinals are going for their sixth playoff win ever, while the Steelers are going after their sixth Super Bowl win. Even with all these stats that seem to support the Steelers, anything can happen on super Sunday.
So, even if you are not a huge football fan, there are so many storylines and entertaining features that there is more to watch besides the football. Bruce Springsteen is performing at half time and the event has become a staple of American culture.  

Brett Buchalter

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Curb Your Stress

I’ve been watching a lot of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” lately. The show, depicting a fictionalized version of the life of “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David, has been a success on HBO for years, but—chiefly as a result of my family’s Spartan cable subscription—I have discovered it only recently. It is typically described as a sitcom. I suppose this is an accurate characterization of the typical episode structure—Larry routinely gets himself into situations ripe for comedy—but it is misleading as to the overall tone of the show. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has no laugh track, is filmed by handheld camera, and, most unusually, is produced without the aid of a script.

That’s right—it’s all improv. I’ve gathered through extensive research (read: Wikipedia) that while the actors are given detailed scene outlines that specify topics which need to be discussed and later jokes which need to be set up, they create and deliver their lines on the spot. Their conversations are peppered with “ums” and “ahs,” and the characters often talk over one another, especially when arguing. This can be incredibly frustrating—Larry in particular tends to circumnavigate touchy subjects ad nauseum—but it can also be incredibly funny, full of poorly-chosen metaphors and awkward silences. In short, it is funny in the same way that our own lives are funny. It is naturalistic. It is “real.”

I can’t help but see a connection between this sort of unscripted sitcom and reality television. If reality show contestants are not given scene outlines—and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in some cases, they are—then they are at least guided by the highly artificial scenarios in which they find themselves to behave a certain way. To steal an example from the excellent post on “Momma’s Boys” below, the producers of that show chose to put a bigoted, loud spoken woman in a house with many women whose ethnicities she found objectionable. Though it was not scripted, or even outlined, a fight was inevitable.

Larry David often emphasizes in interviews that the “character” of Larry David whom he plays on the show is quite different from his real personality. He shouldn’t need to clarify this: how could the character ever truly reflect upon his personality? The character is placed in situations engineered for conflict, and the comedy that results from conflict. Contestants on a reality TV show are also placed in situations engineered for conflict. Personalities are deliberately chosen to clash. Competitions are inherently stressful. And the living arrangements on many of the shows—the dormitory-style bedrooms in the sterile, camera-filled house—are enough to drive anyone up the wall. I don’t mean to defend contestants who act out on a show; many people do just fine under stress (though these people are usually eliminated early from reality TV due to their lack of entertainment value). However, I do think that the producers shape characters out of their contestants even before the footage hits the editing room. Aside from standardized tests, few experiences in life are constructed for the sole purpose of creating stress and conflict. For the sake of others’ perceptions of our “characters,” we should be thankful of it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ryan from The Real World: Brooklyn- Staunchly Homophobic or Simply Naive?

The Real World: Brooklyn, only two episodes into its season, is the twenty-first season of MTV’S hit reality television show, The Real World. Among firsts for the series this season are the first time it is shown in high definition, the first time it has featured a transgender character, and the first time the season has premiered with eight characters (versus seven).

As we have discussed in class, all of the characters are easily “stereotyped”. In the first two episodes, sexual orientation and other LGBTQ issues have played a large role in the plot and in character interaction, as the housemates include a transgender woman, a bisexual woman, and a homosexual man. I would like to focus this blog entry on a specific event from Episode 2: “The Outs and Ins of Brooklyn.” During this episode five members of the house go to a gay bar in Manhattan. Ryan Conklin, a member of the house from Pennsylvania who went to the gay bar, is the “homophobic, racist while-male” character that we have discussed in class. Before joining the gang to go to the gay bar he expresses his nervousness and even asks Chet, another white, heterosexual male in the house, to pretend to be his boyfriend so that he would not get approached by gay men in the bar.

While at the bar JD, a homosexual male from the house, offers to pay Ryan $100 to dance with a drag performer at the club named Peppermint. Ryan reluctantly does it but Peppermint, being the entertainer she is supposed to be, reacts to Ryan’s sheepishness by asking for a kiss on the cheek. When Ryan is about to kiss her, she turns and kisses him on the lips. Ryan is appalled by this (see the image below). He proceeds to make gagging motions and makes a scene out of washing his mouth out when he gets home.

Eventually, though, Ryan ends up laughing it off with his roommates. I would like to point out that even though Ryan is supposed to be the “homophobic, racist while-male character,” he is much more kind and understanding than this particular character type in the past seasons of The Real World. Perhaps the best example of such a homophobic character was David Rainey, better known as “Puck” from The Real World: San Francisco, in 1994. However, in contrast to Puck, Ryan does not act righteous and stubborn in his ways. Puck acts so extremely, through acts such as wearing a swastika, that the other members of the house vote to evict him. But with Ryan, the other members of the house embrace and understand him as being na├»ve. Ryan is not intently hurtful with his ways but rather just shy and unknowing. So far in the season, it seems that Ryan is not the harsh homophobic character but rather a shy boy who has simply not been exposed to the diversity that is present in a big city such as New York. It will be interesting to see how Ryan’s views develop throughout the season. Will this exposure make him turn into a character like Puck? Or will Ryan “come out” to embrace the diversity of his fellow housemates?

-Alissa Bonneau

*If you want to catch up on the Real World Brooklyn, episode 3 premiers tonight at 10:00 and is replayed at 11:00. (Episode 2 is re-played at 9:00, also).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Address

Today, the world came together to witness the historic inauguration of President Barrack Obama. President Obama assumes office amidst war and an economic recession—an undeniable crossroads in American history. In his speech, the President described this moment as one that will “define a generation”. His nearly 20-minute address focused on this crucial moment in history.
Although President Obama’s inaugural address lacked the power and brilliance of his post-New Hampshire primary speech, it was characteristically effective in its aims. The President is world-renowned for his rhetorical abilities, and his uplifting message brings hope of a brighter tomorrow to both Americans and the international community. The President promised sweeping change, including a return to fiscal responsibility and a massive plan to stimulate economic growth. Obama restated his commitment to peace but warned that America would defeat all who embrace terror. The challenges faced by Americans are new, but the President assured the country that a return to the old values of “hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism” would be the driving force of progress in our nation. Over the next few days, President Obama is expected to enact numerous controversial executive orders that will undoubtedly reshape the current American political landscape. Change is inevitable. The results that these changes will yield are uncertain. Time will tell if President Obama possesses adequate experience for the office of President. For now, Americans cannot help but remain optimistic. Obama’s words have given Americans hope.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Momma Drama right in your home, on NBC

We all remember those days when we lived at home, in the presence of our mothers loving care twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We remember the lunches she packed us, the soccer games she drove us to, the school excuse notes she wrote. Our mothers did a lot of great things for us, and got so little in return. So, who says she can’t get a say in who we marry? Oh no! In NBC’s new series Momma’s Boys, the belief “momma knows best” is put to the test as three young men embark on a journey in search of passionate, undying love. But, unlike anything else seen before, they cannot act like whimsical Prince Charmings because…their momma’s are right on the scene, ready to put in their word.

The show opened with a bang last month. We saw everything we love to see in the beginnings of a quality show: the beachside, California estate, the huge room where everyone sleeps, and girls from all different backgrounds (though many seemed to be from Texas, oddly enough. I guess moms love Texans). We soon meet the boys – JoJo, a student and Michael Phelps sound-alike, Michael, a fireman, and Rob, a real estate broker. The good stuff, the real meat of the show, floods us as the three moms march in – Lorainne, Esther, and Khalood (aka Mrs. B). Mrs. B immediately sets off a firestorm by standing her ground she set before the show that she will not allow her son, sweet JoJo, to end up with an Asian, Muslim, Hispanic, or African American. Most girls ignore this, or at least keep their game faces on, but Vita, a strong-willed woman of color, will have none of it. She is immediately in Mrs. B’s face, yelling, insulting, making sure she knows what a bigot she is. But Vita can tirade and tantrum all she wants because Mrs. B knows she’s the one with the power, that she is the one who possesses the link into JoJo’s mind. Vita will be gone in a New York second, Mrs. B assures herself. However, does she know JoJo’s heart, does she know enough to control it? Can she make her wish come true? Another biological question, less mushy and more carnal, can she control his…well…something else?

I leave these questions up for you to answer as JoJo, Michael, and Rob with their moms venture on to find everlasting love. Who will go, who will stay, who’s hearts will be broken, the girl’s or, possibly more likely, the mom’s? Watch and see if the mothers can realistically get one last say, one last nudge in the side, right before they are no longer the only women in their son’s lives.

-Ben Reinhardt

Thursday, January 8, 2009

MTV's Next

Dating is difficult. You have to constantly check your appearance, what you say and how your date reacts. You have to present your best possible self to someone else. It can be incredibly stressful, to the point that you might want to forgo dating all together. Dating is a subtle art.

Next does away with all of that, especially subtlety. It distills dating down the basest goal (not starting a relationship, but getting laid), then layers on a veneer of innuendo that surely is meant to fool all but the target demographic (15-30 year olds), and throws in a monetary angle to purport itself as a game show.

Each episode focuses on one person, the Contestant, who is going to choose from five people, the Daters, to ask out on a second date. The Contestant picks a few events representing their interests (from human bowling to an impromptu rodeo) that they and the Daters participate in. The episodes almost always conclude with a meal (usually with obviously forced small talk). It may seem unruly to have a six person date, and it would be, which is why the Contestant only continues the date with one of the Daters at a time. Whenever the Contestant wants to stop seeing a dater, they just have to shout "next!" and the next Dater comes out. The Nexted Dater doesn't leave empty handed though, they receive 1 dollar for every minute they have been on a date with the Contestant. At the end of the episode, the last Dater standing is given the option of going on a second date with the Contestant or taking the money, which they earned like the Nexted Daters.

Viewed superficially, Next is great trashy TV. It's a bunch of attractive twentysomethings making fools of themselves, it makes the viewer feel superior about their own intellect and morals. It's filler TV, if you've got 15 minutes till school, why not watch some Next? It has no storyline, no real purpose, it's just attractive people doing silly things on TV, what's not to love?

Viewed critically, Next doesn't seem so harmless. It reinforces the idea that dating isn't a serious thing, that all young people are of a one-track mind and that all the stereotypes you believe about a certain demographic are true. Young men are portrayed as solely interested in anatomy, both heterosexual and homosexual alike (In fairness, the show does deserve some credit for portraying homosexual individuals in the same manner it portrays their heterosexual counterparts). Young women are not portrayed as being as superficial as the men; however they fall from third-wave feminist tree, demonstrating that they want a man to take care of them (the college students apparently in school to get their MRS degree).

Taken seriously, Next exemplifies the worst aspects of new wave American courtship. It portrays Contestants and Daters as simplistic, stereotyped caricatures. It places an undo emphasis on external characteristics and can give the wrong impression about the youth of America. That being said, there is no reason to be overdramatic and hail Next as the first sign of the downfall of western civilization. I think it is meant to be viewed as an over the top, deeply simplified dating show, and seeing it as such, the show is perfectly harmless, mindless fun.

Tom Kozlowski

An episode for reference:

URL in case embedded videos fail:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Welcome to PWR 2!

Ever since MTV first put seven strangers in a house, reality television has played an increasingly prominent role in popular culture. Reality culture can take many forms and serve various purposes. It can range from the informative (documentaries and do-it-yourself shows) to the sensational (dating shows and "celebreality"). Meanwhile, the public debate surrounding reality culture either dismisses the genre completely or holds it up as a sign of the decay of modern culture. In this course, we will examine reality television as a complex cultural phenomenon that addresses several important issues at the heart of cultural studies.

Where does non-fiction end and fiction begin? What social visions does reality television depict? What strategies do "real-life" narratives use to persuade the audience that they represent reality? To answer these questions, we will consider theoretical and critical essays on the reality genre alongside case studies of the Maysles' Grey Gardens, the Big Brother UK racism controversy, and examples from "celebreality." Your work will be to choose one case study of reality culture, broadly defined (which may include documentaries, television news, beauty pageants, game shows, blogs, and other media genres), and to research this topic in depth.